#20: Zack and Miri Make A Porno
Granted, comedies for the new millenium have been ruled over by the iron fist of Apatow, but Zack and Miri was Kevin Smith's way of showing him who did it first and who did it best. The movie was filthy, hysterically funny, and genuinely sweet without once ever being heavy handed or preachy.
This was just one of those movies that was bound to be good. Adapted to the screen by Neil Gaiman from his own book and directed by Henry Selick, it's just one very dark and very sinister fairytale that succeeded by never talking down to the kids and never pandering to the adults in the audience.
I made the mistake of first watching this with my parents. Bad move on my part. It's one of the first, if not the only, movie that successfully combined romance with BDSM without playing it for laughs. It's just too wonderfully twisted and kinky people falling in love over a mutual love of the more bizarre and enjoyable forms of sex.
Junebug is one of the harder films on the list to initially grasp. At first, it seems a little too stiff, the polite southern charms a little too painted on. Watch it a second time and you realize just how well acted it is. Never has a film so lovingly embraced sheer earnestness, and Amy Adams' performance remains to this day one of the most tragicall overlooked of the decade.
#16: Donnie Darko
Watching Donnie Darko is the closest you will ever get to a literal brainfuck in cinema. If you fail to keep up with the narrative, it probably won't do much for you; But take in each glorious snag in the fabric of space and time, blessedly intersected with occasional flashes of middle-American satire, and you're brain will be lighting up a post-coital smoke.
#15: Spirited Away
Forget the Japanes cash-cows that were Pokemon, Sailor Moon and that one with the children's card games. This is what Anime is all about: Painstakingly beautiful, hand-drawn animation wrapped around mythology, all put together by a man who is so obviously in love with his work you can't help but feel the same.
#14: Half Nelson
This might be one of the few movies that could have made the list based on its soundtrack alone; It's composed entirely by Canadian indie supergroup Broken Social Scene. And if that doesn't do the trick, Ryan Gosling gives a performance that can, for all intents and purposes, knock you on your ass in all of about five minutes.
#13: Pan's Labyrinth
It's hard to describe a movie as being brutal without making it sound like criticism, but Pan's Labyrinth is absolutely brutal in the best possible sense of the word. It's a visual masterpiece that treads the line between childlike fantasy and what can really only be described as soul-crushing cruelty. And I mean that in a good way.
#12: Ghost World
I know I already reviewed this one a while back with AVB, but I stand by what I said: Ghost World should be standard viewing for every self-righteous teen who's hiding their own personal insecurities and uncertainties about the future behind sarcasm and ironic hipster threads. It's a movie about figuring out how to just live when everyone seems to have it together but you.
#11: Finding Nemo
This list could have easily been dominated by Pixar movies, a studio whose worst movies are still heads and tails above most other movies. Finding Nemo was the one that cemented their reputation for creating movies that captured what it really means to be human, even if the main characters were fish.
#10: Almost Famous
There's a part in Almost famous where Lester Bangs drops the famous line "The only true currency in this bankrupt world... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." That's what Almost Famous is: A celebration of being honest, innocent and compassionate, and sharing it with the world, no matter how uncool that makes you.
#9: Let The Right One In
Easily the most surreal and disturbing film on the list. It's terror doesn't lie random flashes of gore, viscera and intestines, but in a deliberate, slow creep, juxtaposing childhood innocence with a sense of quiet but impending doom. The gradual movement from one to the other, and the inability to go back, is where real scares are found.
This is a movie that manages to be heartbreaking both on camera and off camera. The gentle love story of a woman who constantly finds herself a victim of circumstance coping with an unwanted pregnancy is given further depth by the fact that Adrienne Shelly was murdered before she could ever see its release. From that point, it becomes a love letter to her own daughter, a message that someone, somewhere out there will love them enough to just hold them for 20 minutes straight without a trace of selfishness.
When I first wrote about Up, I said something along the lines of "I will end up crying within the first ten minutes of this movie". Ooooooh boy was I ever right. Wall-E may have been lauded for forgoing dialogue for the first half of the movie, but Up has undoubtedly the best opening ever, effectively condensing a lifetime of love into ten minutes without uttering a single word, then spending the rest of the movie figuring out how to cope once the love goes where you can't follow.
#6: Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain may, at this point, be a shorthand joke for anything gay in Hollywood, but this is more a sign of ignorance than any fault of the movie. It's the perfect combination of an absolutely flawless script, spot-on direction and acting performances from a young and all-to promising cast. And it's Oscar snub is still seen as something of a mark on the Academy.
#5: Little Miss Sunshine
How exactly the hell does a movie about a cocaine-addicted elderly man teaching his granddaughter to strip for a beauty pageant become one of the most heart warming films of the decade? No idea, but Little Miss Sunshine was what happens when you realize that yes, all families are dysfunctional and shitty but love just makes it all a little easier to deal with.
#4: Shaun of the Dead
You can't really parody something if you don't love it, and that's what Shaun of the Dead was: it took the piss out of zombie movies while showering them with praise. It proved that yes, zombie apoclaypses are FUN, but at the end of the day those zombies are loved ones, family, friends, and having to (re)kill them is a heart-wrenching experience.
#3: The Dark Knight
Batman Begins was Christopher Nolan's way of establishing the fact that movies based on comics can, in fact, be rooted in reality, and The Dark Knight proved it. It was a dark, disturbing appeal to humanity's ability to stand strong in their beliefs and principals even in the face of absolute cruelty, and Heath Ledger's Joker was the epitome of Machiavellian, tormented insanity. And on the plus side: No Bat Nipples. Woo!
Fuck the backlash. If you can't see the forest through the trees, that's your problem, but Juno was, and forever will be, the movie that brought indie into the mainstream. It's what happens when fresh young talent comes together and makes a movie that succeeds on talent rather than on budget. It's what happens when you strip a romantic comedy of all the studio-approved gimmicks and leave behind the raw beating heart. It's a love story. That's it, that's all. If that's not enough for you, what is?
#1: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind